For girls and women of colour, it can take as little as a fight with a classmate to come face to face with the authorities. In parts of America, girls of colour living in poverty often live in over-policed communities and face homelessness and family separation. At school, they are exposed to harsh punitive measures. They face corporal punishment, referral to the police, expulsion, suspension or even arrest for infractions that would yield different results if committed by a white counterpart. Living in poverty, girls are subjected to domestic violence, self-harm and racial bias. Some have spoken of domestic violence and self-harm and racial bias. This harsh discipline and discrimination only fuel the sense of injustice felt by girls and young women of colour, which can in turn cause them to act out, leaving them trapped in a vicious cycle. This exclusion forms the fabric of oppression that will come to define their lives. At best, social services view the girls as victims that need mental health treatment. More often, they are treated as offenders that need punishment. Social service programmes are often co-educational and fail to address girls’ needs, or their experiences with trauma. Girls of colour are the fastest growing prison population.
S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective (SSLC) was set up in 2015 by girls who had gone through the juvenile system, with a view to redressing the inequalities that affect girls and non-binary youth of colour. It works with those at risk of entering the juvenile legal system, in the child welfare system, facing homelessness or in under-resourced public schools or mental health facilities in Miami. SSLC welcomes all folks who identify with femininity, womanhood and girlhood. The organisation strives to reduce the girl population in Miami prisons to zero using restorative justice — a system of rehabilitation and reconciliation with the community — to address offences. It supports the healing of those affected by discrimination and violence and offers a support hub for girls and non-binary youth. SSLC provides girls and young women with a powerful community of mentors, activists and educators with which they work on self-awareness and problem-solving skills. It has partnered with schools, shelters, group homes and detention centres to work on trauma-informed leadership development and social justice education. Its entrepreneurship programme helps participants develop their skills by creating socially conscious products. Girls and non-binary youth are involved in setting the strategic direction of programming and in the organisation at various levels. During workshops in prisons, schools and other sites, it is girls who decide what they learn and how to design their project.